Farm Bill should ban eating dogs and horses, along with instituting other key animal welfare reforms

Americans shouldn’t butcher dogs or horses, or enable the activity, and then sell the meat for human consumption, and Congress can make that the law of the land as it pieces together the far-flung provisions of the Farm Bill in the coming months. Our thriving agricultural sector is successful enough that we as a nation don’t have to resort to the desperate, deplorable strategy of killing dogs and horses to put food on the table or dimes in our pockets. These animals—our companions—have never been raised for food in the United States, and it’s a betrayal of our bond with them to steal, buy, or gather up these animals for the pot or the plate.

Lawmakers on the Agriculture Committees in Congress are conducting hearings on a wide range of agriculture policy issues as they take steps to ready the federal Farm Bill—a mish-mash of food and farm issues bundled into a massive package roughly every five years. Several free-standing animal welfare bills, which already have tremendous bipartisan support in the Congress, are ripe for being incorporated into the Farm Bill. Collectively they seek to codify our cultural antipathy for killing and eating cats, dogs, and horses and to crack down on other forms of animal cruelty and misuse of funds.

The Dog and Cat Meat Trade Prohibition Act (H.R. 1406), introduced by Reps. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., Dave Trott, R-Mich., and Brendan Boyle, D-Pa. amends the Animal Welfare Act to prohibit the slaughter, trade, import, or export of dogs and cats for human consumption. The bill prevents the dog and cat meat trade from taking hold in the U.S. while strengthening our country’s moral standing to press for reform worldwide at a time when we are asking China, South Korea, and other southeast Asian nations to take a stand on the issue.

The Safeguard American Food Exports Act (H.R. 113/S. 1706) protects horses and consumers by prohibiting the transport and export of U.S. horses to slaughter for human consumption. American horses are not raised for food, and in the normal course of using them for other purposes, their owners give them dozens of drugs over their lifetimes that can be toxic to humans if their meat is ingested. As with dog meat, there are foreign markets, but thankfully no meaningful domestic consumption. Yet, in contrast to the dog meat issue, there are healthy American horses funneled into the slaughter pipeline—more than 100,000 a year. The House bill, introduced by Reps. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., Ed Royce, R-Calif., and Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M., and the Senate bill, introduced by Senators Robert Menendez, D-N.J., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, have tremendous support, and all it will take to get these bills done is to give them a free and fair vote.

Congress has been careless in completing its work in cracking down on the festering problem of horse soring—the intentional injuring of the front limbs of show horses by chemical or mechanical means to cause them to exaggerate their natural gait and perform the pain-based “Big Lick.” The Big Lick segment of the industry—the trainers and owners conducting or abiding by the abuse—has proved that it won’t eradicate the problem and instead will keep defying appropriate standards of care for horses. This is where the government must step in to stop this appalling form of animal cruelty. The Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act (H.R. 1847), by Reps. Ted Yoho, R-Fla. and Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., would amend the nearly 50-year old weak federal law to end the failed system of industry self-policing, ban devices integral to soring (including large stacked shoes and ankle chains), strengthen penalties, and hold abusers accountable. The bill currently has 252 House cosponsors, and the Senate should see introduction of a companion bill soon. USDA is the agency responsible for enforcing the Horse Protection Act that PAST amends, so the Farm Bill is a logical place to consider an upgrade to the law.

In each of the last three Farm Bills—enacted in 2002, 2008, and 2013—Congress upgraded the federal animal fighting law. Lawmakers are gearing up to introduce legislation in September to clarify that federal law forbids animal fighting everywhere in the U.S., including in U.S. territories, Puerto Rico, and elsewhere, building on the legal framework that criminalizes staged fights between animals. No jurisdiction within the United States should be an enclave or refuge for this kind of intentional cruelty.

The Pet And Women Safety Act (H.R. 909/ S. 322) has 231 House cosponsors, including co-leads Reps. Katherine Clark, D-Mass., Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., Rick Nolan, D-Minn., Jeff Denham, R-Calif., Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., and Mimi Walters, R-Calif., and the Senate bill has 18 cosponsors, including co-leads Senators Gary Peters, D-Mich. and Dean Heller, R-Nev. The bills protect battered domestic partners and their pets by extending current federal domestic violence protections to include pets, and authorizes a small amount of grant money to help domestic violence shelters accommodate pets or arrange for pet sheltering.

The Farm Bill also presents an opportunity to pass the Opportunities for Fairness in Farming Act (H.R. 1753/ S. 741), introduced by Reps. Dave Brat, R-Va. and Dina Titus, D-Nev., and Senators Mike Lee, R-Utah and Cory Booker, D-N.J. Checkoff programs are taxes imposed on agricultural industries that provide hundreds of millions of dollars to opponents of the humane treatment of animals. USDA’s lax oversight has resulted in collusive and suspect relationships between USDA checkoff boards and lobbying organizations that ultimately harm animals and farmers who believe in animal stewardship. The OFF Act would provide accountability, transparency, and an auditing program for the USDA’s commodity checkoff programs so the funds can be used as they were intended. A coalition of farming, animal welfare, and conservative organizations support this reform.

Traditionally, the Farm Bill has also been the stage for some lawmakers to try to undermine animal welfare. Reps. Steve King, R-Iowa and Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis. have both introduced bills that would invalidate state laws that help animals, including those meant to uphold animal welfare and food safety standards. In short, they are trying to preempt the states from taking action on animal welfare issue, but these are the same lawmakers who have stood in the way of even the most limited, industry-approved federal protections for farm animals. In 2011, in the run-up to the last Farm Bill, the United Egg Producers and The HSUS developed a rational plan to transition the egg industry to a new future, giving at a minimum the birds more space and some limited enrichments. The vast majority of major egg producers embraced it, yet these lawmakers and their allies couldn’t even find a way to support it. When you want to wipe out state animal welfare laws, and you block federal farm animal welfare laws, it means you just plain don’t support animal welfare. No one should fall for their trumped-up constitutional arguments, which haven’t prevailed in the courts.

Animals are at the center of the agricultural economy, and that means the welfare of the animals should be at the center of our thinking. There has been enormous activity in the corporate sector and at the state level to proactively address animal welfare. Most of this activity has occurred since the last Farm Bill. Within the last few years, virtually every major food company—from McDonald’s and Denny’s to Walmart and Costco—has adopted a timeline for switching to 100 percent cage-free eggs. The biggest pork producer, Smithfield, has now converted nearly 90 percent of its company-owned breeding sows to group housing and will have its contractors doing the same by 2022. The American Veal Association says virtually all calves will be in group housing by the end of 2017. Voters have approved by commanding margins every statewide ballot initiative calling for an end to extreme confinement of farm animals. Last November, Massachusetts voters favored Question 3—to forbid extreme confinement of laying hens, pigs, and veal calves, and prevent sales of those products within and into Massachusetts —with 78 percent of the vote, prevailing in 348 of 351 towns.

When Congress completed the 2002 Farm Bill, there was not a single state or major food retailer that had adopted anti-confinement policies for farm animals. When Congress approved the 2008 bill, California voters had not yet approved Prop 2, subsequently passing the measure in 47 of 58 counties in the state. And in 2013 when the last Farm Bill was completed, we had not yet seen 250 major food companies embrace animal welfare as they now have. The ground has shifted on animal welfare issues, and federal lawmakers should take note.

The Congress can take up the pro-animal, good government measures as free-standing bills. But if lawmakers don’t, the Farm bill is the right vehicle to improve our nation’s animal welfare programs to build new standards for treating animals well. That would be the right outcome for the nation.

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